I got a call recently from an employee who had just been laid-off. She was a young mother with a professional degree who had worked for a large national company. We talked about all the concerns you would expect: Can I access the EAP benefit? How do I find out about alternative health care? Should I let my childcare arrangement go while I look for a job?
Then what she said made my blood boil. On the Friday before she was laid off, she saw her husband deployed to Iraq. Despite the company knowing her situation—she had taken the day off to bring her young child to the base to say goodbye—just two days later, on Monday, she was escorted out of her office along with others who were caught in the reorganization. This seemed particularly callous treatment, given her situation.
I understand that giving preferential treatment may not be a best practice, but some recognition of extraordinary circumstances seemed to have been in order. This employee was not offered another job within the company and her benefits were cut off within two weeks of her termination. There could have been a better way, if only to have pointed her to support resources. She was philosophical, "maybe it's a good thing, I can spend time with the baby," but in the same breath, she said she wasn't sleeping at night and was turning her heat down to 60 during the day while she sent out resumes and made calls. The baby was warm at the babysitter's, at least for now.
The conflicts in the Middle East have put burdens on American business as many reservists are called up, leaving jobs that are protected under law. But companies should also be aware and sensitive to the special needs of the spouse and family left behind.
A recent blog at the Washington Post by Leslie Morgan Steiner dealt with the tragic story of a young military wife and the impact of her deployment:
Two spokeswomen for National Military Family Association, a nonprofit group that supports military families, isolation is a particular threat for military spouses with very young children whose partners have been deployed. "Spouses face the regular pressures of juggling roles, but when their spouse is deployed, they become single parents worried about their spouse's safety, as well as the effects on their children. Military wives feel additional pressure to be resilient and take care of other wives who need help."
During this holiday time many companies open their hearts to our deserving military by sending cards of support and packing holiday gifts. As HR managers, it is critical that we also remember those left behind with compassionate business practices and ready support. Providing families with information and connections can help ease the strain. The military offers family service support, online chat groups, spouse support groups such as Hearts Apart, and 24/7 counseling through Military Onesource and (800) 342-9647.
Check in with family members and always offer an ear to listen. If appropriate, let other employees know whose family is deployed. Informal support groups can be invaluable. A solid job can be a lifesaver; members of a military family can find purpose and affiliation in the workplace during difficult times.